The foundation of systemic racism is built upon white people not seeing themselves as "raced" individuals. Whiteness is the default, the "norm", so white people only see people of color as having a race. In the United States, the invisibility of whiteness and all that comes with being white allows systemic racism to continue, in some ways that are obvious, but more often unseen by those who are white. Affinity or caucus groups specifically focus on the recognition of whiteness and realities of the role it plays in our lives and society. Here are additional resources on the value of these spaces:
From the perspective of white advocates:
"...placing White folks in interracial dialogue is like 'placing pre-algebra students in a calculus class.' White people have so little experience discussing race, relative to their colleagues of color, that White people need something akin to a remedial course."
Justin Cohen from White Anti-Racism Affinity Groups, I Used to be a Skeptic, Now I am an Evangelist, citing work by Ali Michael and Mary Conger of the University of Pennsylvania
"In my experience of 24 years of facilitating racial justice work, I have found that it is not helpful to put together in the same room folks who have had racism aimed at them all their lives and folks who haven’t had to think about it very much, if at all. The latter group, white people, need a place to start thinking and feeling about it, a space for using prajña (insight) to discover how white conditioning, through no choice of their own, has been embedded in their ego. There is no white person in North America who does not have white conditioning."
Going to the Root: Why White Caucuses Contribute to Racial Justice
citing Robert Horton, Co-Founder
The UNtraining: Healing Personal & Social Oppressions
"White Caucuses are an important mechanism for people who identify as white and/or have white skin privilege to do our own work. It provides us an environment and intention to authentically and critically engage in whiteness, white privilege, and hold each other accountable for change. We explore how to recognize whiteness and white privilege, identify and interrupt our internalized dominance, and collectively develop strategies for liberation and change."
"Whiteness often has us stuck in our heads and intellectualizing. Racism and oppression are lived experiences, and embodied. We cannot be effective in partnering for change if we stay in our heads; we need to be courageous to engage, be vulnerable, feel, and be imperfect. Only then can we partner with other whites and people of color."
Dr. Craig Elliot
Social Justice Training Institute
From the perspective of People of Color:
"Expecting people of color to be in the room to help white people learn about race is yet another example of privilege. Being in a space where white people are starting to wake up to their white cultural conditioning is heartbreaking for me. It is a pain that is felt deeply. I ache for my ancestors and my ancestors’ ancestors. A sadness comes welling up, and it feels like drowning. While there are some people of color who are up for being in conversations with white people about race, this is a gift offered in the service of collective liberation, and it requires tremendous energy, patience, bravery, and effort.
I also don’t believe that the presence of PoC is helpful to white people doing this work. Dictated social niceties make it hard to get into these dark places even among those who share your race. Having a person of color present for this means meeting a fairly solid social barrier (that you’re going to say something that will hurt someone else or make you look bad) that’s hard for anyone to confront, let alone someone just beginning this work. It’s generally best if we’re out of the room.
I believe that in most circumstances, doing race work in an integrated setting is harmful. This is not a popular belief, especially among white people. I have been challenged on this time and again, and I keep showing up for these conversations in mixed-race settings and breaking down from the pain of it all. I open myself up to stories about racist family members, or admissions from former white supremacists. Why do I need to hear this? The fact that racism exists is not a surprise to me. That it infiltrates my very own community is obvious. I do not need to hear more stories about it. Are these admonitions made in hopes of atonement? It is not mine to give."
Why People of Color Need Spaces Without White People
"Find yourselves white people. Find yourselves so that you can know what whiteness is. Find yourselves so that you can determine what you want whiteness to be. Find yourselves so that you can stop your loved ones from voting for a definition of whiteness that you no longer want to subscribe to. Find yourselves so that racism no longer surprises you. White people, I don't want you to understand me, I want you to understand yourselves."
White People: I Don't Want You to Understand Me Better, I Want You to Understand Yourselves